[ExI] beheadings etc.

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Feb 25 10:24:05 UTC 2015

William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> , 24/2/2015 4:29 PM:

Help me out here.  Although I am a psychologist I am at a loss.  

Randomly killing school children, adults, worshipers, beheading Christians and other foreigners or other sects of their religion  ......

Just what message is being sent here?

Why do you assume it is a *message*? Maybe the point actually is just to kill them?

But actually, I do think you are correct: in our current era these events are largely intended as signals. But signals in themselves have no meaning, they need to be interpreted in the right context. The policeman who filmed a legal and public execution in Saudi Arabia got into trouble - there the idea is deterrence, but the explicit goriness of the act is not something officials like displayed to the world in another context. Meanwhile IS really want people to see their clips for a bundle of reasons: to terrorize enemies, to bolster their own in-group pride, to recruit, to scare away, to get attention, to obey some particular paragraph, to show that this cell is way more ruthless and cool than those other cells, just because everybody else is doing it... there are loads of reasons that I think occur at the same time. And many of the people involved have their own media theories, which may or may not make sense to anybody else, or work in reality.  

Basically, the IS is the Nazism of Islam. I suspect that they will in the long run have roughly the same effect on Islam as WWII had on Germany (from my hotel in Berlin I can almost make out the hole in the cityscape from the huge holocaust memorial). Basically, the militants are descending into barbarism that will tend to taint anything by association. That doesn't mean they can't do damage, although we should remember that it is not terrorism* that poses any real risk but actual warfare - terrorism is a loud, brutal signalling sideshow. 

[* The terrorism definition I always use is the use of violence or the threat of violence against innocents/third parties to try to further some social or political change. It is the terror part that matters, not so much what kind of violence it is. ]

Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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